Doubront confounds, then dazzles

Doubront confounds, then dazzles
April 28, 2013, 12:30 am
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BOSTON – Felix Doubront can be as confounding as he can be dazzling. His potential always tantalizing, oftentimes seeming to stay just on the fringes for him.
Saturday night against the lowly Astros – owners of the worst record in the American League, ahead of only the Marlins in the majors – Doubront needed 31 pitches, with just 14 for strikes, to get through the first inning. He gave up two runs in the frame on one hit, a hit batter, and three walks – two behind his single-game season high of five walks.   
Doubront’s offense bailed him out with four runs in the second off Astros right-hander Bard Peacock, giving the Sox lefty some breathing room and time to regroup, on his way to a 8-4 win.
Doubront got the confounding part of his repertoire covered early in the game. In the first inning, he allowed the first four batters to reach base – going single, hit batter, wild pitch, walk, walk. He threw his first first-pitch strike to Ronny Cedeno, the fifth batter of the inning, who hit it for a sacrifice fly, scoring the Astros’ second run.
After that, he got to the dazzling part. From the second through the sixth innings, he faced just two batters over the minimum. Over his final 5.2 innings, he gave up just one run on three hits and a walk.
In the seventh, though, Doubront gave up a lead-off single to Marwin Gonzalez, who took second on a passed ball, and third on a stolen base. Gonzalez scored on Jose Altuve’s groundout. After giving up an infield single to Brandon Barnes, Doubront was done.
Overall, he went 6 2/3 innings, matching a season high, throwing 103 pitches, 62 for strikes. He gave up three runs on four this and four walks, matching a season-high with eight strikeouts. He also had a wild pitch and hit a batter.
“He warmed up very well, warmed up with a crisp bullpen before coming into the game,” said manager John Farrell. “And then in that first inning it seemed like he might have been trying to test his rhythm. [An] inconsistent release point, number of walks we saw. But even in that situation just to allow the two runs I thought he found a way to navigate through it.
“And then as the evening went along much better rhythm, much better tempo, worked quicker. Still he’s got the ability to get a lot of swing and miss with that changeup, swing and miss to his fastball. And again to work into the seventh inning was big once again tonight.”
Doubront improved to 3-0 with a 4.24 ERA. He has won three consecutive starts, matching his career high which he also accomplished on May 7-17, 2012, and is 3-0 for the first time in his career.
But the first inning was just as confounding to Doubront as it was to those watching.
“Seriously, I don’t know what happened in the first inning,” he said. “I was feeling like I was using more my arm than my body. I was a little frustrated with what I’m doing, and thinking too much. But overall after the first inning, I just really focused on the strike zone. I wasn’t thinking of my mechanics at all, and  just throw the ball and get quick outs to go deep in the game. And I’m so proud that I did that.  I flipped the switch after the first inning. I got the W.”
And he showed he can be dominating. With eight strikeouts in the game, he is averaging better than a strikeout per inning --  11.19 strikeouts per nine innings, with a 29 strikeouts over 23 1/3 innings this season.
“The one thing that we’ve seen is that many times it’s taken him a couple of innings to get into the flow of the game,” Farrell said. “And that was the case in the game again tonight, [as it was] in spring training. And then once he hits his stride, he becomes much more efficient. And that was the case again tonight.”
“Forty-one or 42 pitches [actually 47] after two innings, and all of a sudden you start to see those 9-14 pitch innings. It allows him to get deep in the game. But it's just a matter of him finding his rhythm on the mound and fortunately he was able to come thru that first inning without a big number on the board.”
Farrell said he may talk with Doubront and pitching coach Juan Nieves about adjusting Doubront’s pre-game in between-starts routine, with the goal of eliminating the need for the early innings to be Doubront’s time to make adjustments.
“I think it’s worth talking about with Juan and Felix is to warm up, sit down, and throw that first inning in the bullpen,” Farrell said. “And that’s not an uncommon approach that guys will use, just to get that first ‘get loose, sit down, get back up, and refocus again.’ It’s been done with guys that are on this staff now in the past, and it may be certainly something that we take a look at closer.”
Doubront knows he has the ability to make the necessary adjustments.
“Yeah, what happened today, that proved that I can do that,” he said. “And I’m just waiting for the moment I have to put it all together to get a more efficient game and feel good about myself.”